Finding a place to die can be as expensive as finding a place to live. Space shortages in countries around the world raise the daunting question of where to lay dead bodies to rest. There are over 100 billion dead people on Planet Earth, and there often isn’t enough space in cities for the living let alone the dead. Growing global populations require us to revolutionize the way we think about death and burial.
The Earth’s population is currently 7.4 billion and growing. It is predicted to reach 10 billion by 2050. Today more than 50% of the Earth’s population lives in cities, and people are moving to cities faster than ever before. About 60 million people die each year, and it is growing increasingly difficult to find space to bury those people in or near dense urban area. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, In the United States alone, land the size of Las Vegas will be required to bury all those that die between 2024 and 2042.
Traditional burials are permanent; a person is buried in a purchased plot of land for time immemorial. Years later when all memory of that person’s life have faded, the land cannot be used to serve the living. In a time when space shortages are increasingly common, the embalmment of bodies in traditional burials is perpetually detrimental to the purposes of society. In large numbers the embalmed bodies pose threats to the environment as contaminants of soil and water sources. Eventually the nutrients of all deceased organisms will return to the Earth, extending the process is counterintuitive for the modern world.
For our site, we chose the Lower East Side neighborhood in New York City for our site. Manhattan, bounded on all sides by water is restricted from growing outward and has grown upward, producing an incredibly dense urban area aligning with the necessity of vertical cemetery development. The values of Manhattan, upwards of 25 percent of the New York City populace identify as unaffiliated with religion, that are more likely to be open to the idea of a skyscraper burial and the concept of urban recycling as a key tenet of sustainability. Just west of the Williamsburg Bridge, the corner of Essex St. and Delancey St will provide Valar Morghulis with the site of our innovative yet elegiac vision.
Death and burial is fraught with tradition and meaning. Valar Morghulis strives to maintain the elegy of traditional burial methods while confronting the pressing issues of the practices surrounding death. As cities grow taller to accommodate more people, cemeteries will also need to evolve vertically to accommodate the deceased. The future is tall. There will be tall buildings that house not only offices and condominiums, but gyms, hospitals, parks, and cemeteries.
The idea of urban recycling is one of the key factors to building sustainable culture. In addition to building the cemetery up, Valar Morghulis envisions a different approach to the way we think about the permanence of burials. Revolving around the concept of rebirth, the nutrients of the deceased can be recycled to support new life. Using an egg-shaped pod, a seed made of biodegradable material, departed loved ones are placed within for burial. Ashes from cremations will be held in small capsulas while bodies will be laid down in a fetal position in larger pods. The pod will then be buried as a seed within individual personal vaults inside the skyscraper cemetery. A tree, chosen in life by the deceased, will be planted on top of it to serve as a symbol – a memorial – for the departed and a legacy for posterity and the future of our planet. Family and friends will continue to visit the living memorial within the vertical cemetery in remembrance - to care for the tree as it grows. Once the tree reaches sapling size it will be transported out of the building to a site where it can be reburied. Opening a spot for another of the deceased to be reborn
With limited space in a dense urban area, we searched for the optimal way to house as many temporary burial spaces within our high-rise cemetery as possible. Using nature as our inspiration, we researched many shapes to discover that hexagons are the universally preferred shape for packing in nature. In order to pack together cells that are identical in shape and size so that they fill all of a flat plane, only three regular shapes will work: equilateral triangles, squares and hexagons. Of these, hexagonal cells require the least total length of wall, compared with triangles or squares of the same area. Just as honey bees have chosen hexagons in the pursuit of efficiency since making wax costs them time and energy. We have utilized hexagons both to maximize the efficiency of the packing of our burial spaces with the inherent economy its shape provides in terms of required material usage.
In terms of structure, hexagons also provide many advantages that other tesselations of shapes cannot. The strongest known structural shape is the circle, with the hexagon being the second strongest. However, when circles are stacked on top of each other they leave empty space in between them; while the hexagon is the strongest structural shape that can be cleanly tesselated. In addition, hexagons are the only regular polygon that can be subdivided into another regular polygon. In fact, hexagons are the only regular polygon such that the distance between the center and each vertex is equal to the length of each side, creating uniform load displacement.
Throughout history, the beehive and complex honeycomb within have inspired architects, with a surprising number of structures built to replicate the hive. This has continued into modern times, and has led architects in wildly different directions as they have tried again and again to transpose the spirit of the beehive into the built environment. Where Antoni Gaudi borrowed from the natural exuberance of the honeycomb, Le Corbusier used the box-shaped forms of the modern apiary. What excites us about the beehive is the cleanliness and efficiency, and the harmony that comes with self-sufficiency and the dream of collective action.
The traditional honey farm uses two parallel tesselations of extruded hexagons, allowing the bees to move through the hexagons, in and out of the central cavity. From within this central cavity, the bees are able to move from cell to cell, transporting materials and accessing each from within the structure. Valar Morghulis has abstracted this concept into cylindrically-informed high rise building. Each of the burial pods can be accessed by a series of robotic arms from within the building’s atrium similar to an automated parking garage. The building’s twisting form is derived from repeating a regular pattern of differing lengths of extruded hexagons. Valar Morghulis combines the forward-thinking efficiencies of the modern urban experience with the cathartic concept of rebirth, all while maintaining the elegy of traditional burial methods.
To achieve the buildings dynamic, twisting form we use a combination of varying pod lengths from 15 feet to 30 feet using increments of 5. This process is achieved by modulating the pods as a kit of parts. The two main features of each unit are the extruded hexagonal shell that is placed within the frame of the building, and the retractable burial tray that houses the rebirth process. The burial tray can be slid out of the unit using the centrally located robotic arm and transported to the lower levels for servicing.
Above is the pod assembly process from start to finish. Figure 1 shows the C-Channel framing ribs, the number of which determines the length of the unit. The C-Channel ribs are then connected with a combination of prefabricated concrete panels and reinforced with rebar. After the shell is comprised, C-Channel runners are mounted at the base of the shell. Corresponding C-Channels (shown in Figure 4) act as the primary structure for the retractable burial tray, and slide over the mounted C-Channel runners of the shell, allowing the burial tray to be removed, transported, serviced, and replaced. The furring strips shown in Figure 5 act as the secondary structure of the burial tray and help to support the load of the necessary soil and nutrients held in the tray. Figure 7 shows the completed unit with the burial tray in place.